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Pakistan’s man for all seasons: a Q&A with Ebrahim Hasham

Pakistan’s man for all seasons: a Q&A with Ebrahim Hasham

Entrepreneur, industrialist, philanthropist and above all, a family man, Mohammad Ebrahim Hasham is the CEO of Mehran Sugar Mills Ltd. as well as the founder of several institutions, a leading figure of the Memon community and an active member of several chambers of commerce. His book titled ‘Journey to Excellence’ is to be completed this year and details the 100 years’ long journey of the Hasham family on the path of success

What are the most vivid memories of your childhood, your educational years and your internships?

Mohammad Ebrahim Hasham: “As a child of five, in our home in Kharadar, Karachi, I remember that we were the only family that had a Victoria (horse-drawn carriage or ghora gari) although my father rode a bicycle. In 1959, when I was 12, I remember playing cricket enthusiastically at Lawrence College, Murree, and running a 3-km marathon annually. At a very young age, I learnt the motto, ‘Never give in’. I was proud to be made the opening batsman for my house – Walker House. With six sisters and four brothers including myself in my immediate family, I enjoyed a lot of interaction with them in a pleasant family ambience.

My boarding school years at FC College, Lahore and then my BA (Hons.) degree in Economics from Karachi University in 1970 are memorable years too, as they were dotted with hard work and play. I found myself being drawn towards my family business consequently.

While still a student, I volunteered to go on a 3-month internship to Mogul Tobacco Company Ltd. and then  on to Mardan to gain experience in purchasing tobacco and learning to deal with tobacco growers. I remember the intense heat of 45° C, but I did not flinch. This was followed by a training period for cigarette marketing, which took me to the very heart of Jodia Bazaar in Karachi. I followed the principle of ‘4 Ps’ – price, promotion, place, packaging – and at completion, I presented the study to the board of Mogul Tobacco Co. Ltd. Thereafter, I was trained in management at Mehran Sugar Mills Ltd. These formative years of experience are still very vivid in my mind.

Another period of my life that taught me lessons for years to come was learning the value of the buck. While studying for my Masters in Management at Chapman University, California, I chose to earn 50% of my expenses by doing odd jobs like many students and told my family to halve my allowance. Part-time jobs at J.C.Penny, St. Luke’s Hospital and Bank of America, all contributed to shape my personality and make me streetwise. What’s more, I bought and sold seven cars and luckily made money on all of them. My full-time job at General Electric Credit Corporation, Consumer Finance as Assistant Manager was a good experience while I devoted my evenings to my Master’s programme – yet another step on the ladder of life.”

In the memoirs you are writing, you detail the achievements and the establishment of a business house by your father, Haji Hasham, till his demise in 1997. What has been your contribution to the family business to date?

MEH: “Yes, I consider myself fortunate that my father had already established a fairly large scale business to which I could count on for a job. However, I felt there was dire need of setting up a modern business infrastructure. While at Mehran Sugar Mills Ltd., I introduced management concepts – job descriptions, organisational structure, the importance of team work, increasing workforce efficiency, employee motivation and corporate social responsibility programmes – all of which were quite novel in 1975. In the early 80’s, I introduced computer training to my team members.

Thereafter, I am proud to say, that the family business boomed. In 1978, steady re-engineering increased our cane crushing capacity to 3,500 TCD and again in 1994 to 7,000 TCD. In 1983 and in 1986, we were twice recognised by the Karachi Stock Exchange as one of Pakistan’s top 25 companies and won awards. In 1998, we were awarded ISO-9002 QMS certification. The year 2008 recorded the highest sugar production of 70,558 M Tons and the successful commissioning and operation of our JV ethanol plant, Unicol Limited. The year 2009 yielded the highest profits in Mehran’s history.”

You are associated with a number of NGOs, educational and welfare organisations. What do you consider to be your greatest contribution, not only to the Memon community, but to the country?

MEH: “In my book, I have tried to focus on the fact that for an entrepreneur, life is not entirely about business, profitability and growth.

As stressed in our religion Islam, I strongly believe in alleviating poverty and improving the lot of the less fortunate. Since my early years, I have been involved in social and welfare work. Apart from developing various institutes and services to the Memon community, I have established several facilities open to the general public and now work with eleven different non-profit organisations.

With education uppermost in my mind, I founded the Usman Institute of Technology (UIT), Karachi, in 1994, in memory of my late brother, Mohammad Usman Hasham. The aim is to prepare Pakistani men and women to become engineers, scientists and IT experts. Usman Institute today has so far given degrees to 1100 students and presently 1100 students are enrolled in various engineering disciplines.

May I add that I am concerned about the development of women in our country as well. As a board member of the World Memon Foundation, we jointly ensure the vocational training of 100,000 women per year in 70 different subjects.

I founded the Daood Memorial School in 1998 at Tando Allahyar, which now has 450 students and 29 faculty members. When I visit DMS, I am pleased to see the learning ability and will to gain knowledge of students in rural Pakistan. I am also an advisor at IQRA University. Another accomplishment of my life is that I am the Founder Member and Board of Governors of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Programme, now running in many educational institutes and schools across the country.”

As one of Pakistan’s leading industrialists, what measures in your opinion should be taken to strengthen the country’s economy; increase exports, particularly of new items; and introduce more technology in the country?

MEH: “The governments of developing countries cannot be expected to take care of all development aspects of its citizens. The private sector has to lend a hand. Pakistan is essentially an agrarian economy, with a rapidly growing population and by the year 2030, there will be 300 million Pakistanis. I believe that the private sector has to step in and play its part in both rural and urban development.

The export sector also needs to grow exponentially. Take, for example, the Global Halal Meat market, which is worth $1.2 trillion and the European Muslim population of 52 million is growing. Pakistan could easily fulfill some capacity by raising cattle more productively and establishing modern abattoirs with zero waste as well as being energy efficient and investing in state-of-the-art storage facilities.

We grow abundant quantities of fruits, but are not able to add value when we sell them. Also, a high percentage of the commodity perishes due to a weak supply chain system.

I also believe that agricultural land owners have to increase their per acre yields or otherwise open the arena for corporate farms to be structured. Pakistan has one of the most fertile land areas and a very comprehensive irrigation network, yet with most of our larger crops, our average national yields are 70-80 % below the global average. This, I feel requires a national campaign and could benefit by simultaneously reducing inflation and increasing exports.

At Mehran Sugar Mills Ltd., our 3,000 sugar cane growers get special assistance in terms of interest free loans, educational facilities to follow modern farming techniques, fertilizers (only after analysing soil conditions) and machinery such as laser levellers to utilise water more efficiently.

Mehran Sugar Mills recently interacted with Naya Jeevan for a healthcare insurance scheme for the workers with less than Rs.15,000 salary per month where the insurance coverage per person is Rs. 150,000!

Pakistan could also develop and export more software products as well as technology specialists, to the developed as well as Less Developed Countries (LDC’s).”

What are your future plans? What legacy do you want to leave for your family, your community and your country?

MEH: “I am now semi-retired, but proud to say that throughout my career I have strived to make a meaningful contribution to the human capital of my country, Pakistan. I made sure that my son, Ahmed, a graduate from Tufts University is given enough responsibility and freedom in his business and private life to act independently and to infuse modern ideas in the family business. Ahmed is at present a Director at Mehran Sugar Mills Ltd., Unicol Ltd. and Adamjee Insurance Company Ltd. He is also a member of the Central Committee of the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (Sindh).

My wife Khurseed, is a Fine Arts graduate and my daughter Iqraa was sent for education to the UK, and is a graduate from the London School of Economics and has done her masters from SOAS.

My two-years’ plan henceforth is:

Expansion at Mehran Sugar Mills Ltd. from 7,000 tons cane crushing per day to 11,000 tons cane crushing per day as well as making the plant one of the most energy efficient plants, so as to set the foundation for future power generation. This represents an investment of Rs. 100-120 crores.

Build a state-of-the-art school in a joint venture with The Citizens Foundation in a suitable rural location in Pakistan.

To continue working towards improving the quality of life of the Hasham Group’s 1,000 employees and our 3,000 farmers at Mehran.

Travel and write further chapters about the family’s background and experiences.

Also, I would like to add that besides poverty and illiteracy, one of Pakistan’s major problems is a severe energy shortfall. To mitigate this problem, we should – besides conventional measures to produce electricity – explore and invest in bio mass, wind, solar, hydel and coal-based power plants. We need to have an energy trading market and ensure that the whole chain from producer to consumer becomes very efficient and market oriented. This is critical for the future of our country!”

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